Posted by Source Ortho on 30th Nov 2021
Covid Update: Omicron Variant
What You Should Know About The Omicron Variant
Seemingly out of nowhere, the most recent variant of the coronavirus has exploded globally.
In the midst of the holiday season, a new variant of the COVID-19 virus was discovered. Proving to be more transmissible than the Delta variant, Omicron is causing record breaking daily positive case numbers across North America, Europe, and a number of other countries across the world.
In total, this new COVID-19 variant has 50 different mutations, with 32 of them found on the spike protein - the protein that recognizes host cells and is the main target of the body’s immune responses - making it the variant with the highest number of mutations to date.
A high number of spike protein mutations means that this form of the virus may be more resistant to earned immunities either through previous infection or vaccination.
Currently, Omicron is responsible for for an average of 550,000 new COVID 19 cases daily in the United States.
Here is what we know so far in regards to the new variant of concern, Omicron:
Where was Omicron First Discovered?
First detected in southern Africa, the omicron variant was reported to the World Health Organization on November 24th, 2021. Two days later on November 26th, the WHO declared omicron as a variant of concern.
On Tuesday, November 30th, data coming out of The Netherlands shows that this new variant was found in cases in Europe dating 11 before the first positive test result was found in Southern Africa.
It is not currently clear if those who have tested positive with this new variant had previously been to or in contact with anyone who had been in southern Africa.
What are the Symptoms of Omicron?
The one silver lining with omicron is that its symptoms seem to be much milder than those associated with other variants of the virus, such as delta. While scientists are still in the early stages of understanding the true significance of omicron and its symptoms, here are the known symptoms of the virus so far:
- Body aches
- Fever or chills
- Shortness of breath
- Sore throat
- Loss of taste and/or smell
- Congestion and/or runny nose
So far the observed symptoms of omicron have been mild and mostly include headache and body aches, with very little loss of taste and smell or presence of a cough which is a significant change from previous variants. However, these symptoms have been mostly observed in younger adults in their 20’ and 30’s, a population that typically has less severe symptoms than older individuals.
Will Vaccines Be Effective Against Omicron?
Because this new COVID variant is still so new, much more research needs to be done to fully understand how natural immunity and vaccines will stand up to the virus. What we do know, is that typically a high number of mutations in the spike protein most likely means the vaccines may not be as effective at fighting off omicron.
It is important to note that just because this strain of the virus has more mutations, that does not inherently make it more dangerous. It simply means that there is a chance those with earned immunity to the virus may more be likely to get infected with this strain than they were with previous variants, including delta.
More research is is still needed to better understand how omicron will interact with those who have the antibodies from previous strains of the virus or vaccination.
Omicron vs Delta Variant
Delta currently accounts for over 99% of the COVID-19 cases in the United States. One major similarity between the two variants is their high number of mutations. However, omicron touts more than double the number of mutations compared to the delta variant.
Another similarity the two variants are showing is their rate of transmissibility. While delta proved to be the most infectious version of the variant we had seen yet, omicron may prove to be even more infectious. However, more research needs to be done on the new strain to identify if any of its 50 mutations will lead it to be more transmissible or infectious.
How to Protect Yourself Against Omicron
Due to the mutations in omicron, scientists believe the virus will be better at evading natural immunity from both previous infection and vaccination. Because of this, the best thing to do to protect yourself and others from getting infected is to continue to wear your mask, wash your hands, and social distance when necessary.
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